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On verge of greatness, Dokic has struggled in past year
July 30 2003
BY BRIAN HIRO - Staff Writer

LA COSTA ---- She was spraying shots everywhere but in the court of play.

She was mumbling to herself in frustration. She was bouncing her racket off the ground and angrily swatting stray tennis balls.

After Jelena Dokic badly dropped the first set of her opening match at the Acura Classic to an opponent she outclasses, a person in the stands observed, "She just doesn't want to win, it seems like."

That has been a familiar refrain this year as the 20-year-old Dokic, pegged in her teens as a tennis superstar in the making, labors through a head-scratching slump that has seen her compile a losing record while stumbling against such undistinguished foes as Barbara Rittner, Paola Suarez (twice), Karolina Sprem, Saori Obata and Maria Vento-Kabchi.

Spain's Magui Serna threatened to add her name to that list Tuesday before No. 9 seed Dokic got her act in order and rallied to a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory at the La Costa Resort and Spa.

"For me, it's just important to try to get some matches in, to start playing well again," Dokic said. "I haven't had a great year, and this was an important match for me to win because she can play well and it was three sets. It was mentally good for me to win this."

In other matches involving seeded players Tuesday, No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Eleni Daniilidou 6-1, 6-1 in her Acura Classic debut; No. 4 Lindsay Davenport beat Amy Frazier 6-3, 6-1; No. 6 Chanda Rubin beat Tina Pisnik 7-5, 6-0; and No. 14 Meghann Shaughnessy played Marion Bartoli in a late match.

Dokic, a native of Yugoslavia who lives in Monte Carlo and trains in Florida, left the Acura Classic last year at a career crest. She reached the final of the tournament, knocking off Jennifer Capriati in the process, and might have mounted a challenge to Venus Williams if she hadn't been stricken by the flu the previous day.

Later in the summer, Dokic achieved a personal-best ranking of fourth in the world.

Her fall from that point has been as mysterious as it is precipitous. Dokic is now outside the top 10 (No. 12) after being eliminated in the first round of seven tournaments this year and advancing to only one semifinal.

Mining for explanations, some point to the fact that she has changed coaches twice in 2003 alone, including the dumping of her hard-driving father, Damir. Others say her boyfriend, race-car driver Enrique Bernoldi, is a distraction.

Asked what ails her, Dokic offered a vague reply.

"Sometimes you just don't do as well, and my confidence has gone low," she said. "It just hasn't been a solid year. I haven't been consistent enough and I haven't played like I played in the last few years. But I think it will come back eventually."

"Eventually" could be as soon as this week if Dokic maintains the form she showed in her comeback Tuesday. After sleepwalking through the first set, she awakened to win the first three games of the second and put the left-handed Serna back on the defensive. Dokic broke Serna to even the match, then smacked 13 winners in the deciding set to close it out.

"Tennis changes very quickly," Serna said. "She can get her confidence back and start playing well again. The way she ended up playing today, she's got a good chance."

Henin-Hardenne, meantime, illustrated why she's sitting on the opposite side of the see-saw from Dokic. Matched against one of the most physically imposing players in women's tennis, Eleni Daniilidou of Greece, No. 3-ranked Henin-Hardenne easily cut her down to size, dropping only two games in a dominating effort.

In her only other meeting with Daniilidou, in 2002, Henin-Hardenne was stretched to three tough sets.

"This year is different," Henin-Hardenne said. "I was serving pretty good, I was aggressive on returns and I was pushing her to make mistakes. It's a good start to the tournament."

It was also a noteworthy one. Henin-Hardenne, who advanced to a probable match against No. 13 seed Elena Dementieva, said it was the first time she has ever played without her coach in attendance. Carlos Rodriguez, her coach for the last seven years, is home with his expectant wife.

"It's good experience because I know I'm alone on the court," Henin-Hardenne said. "I said, 'OK, Carlos isn't here, you have to do it yourself.'

"But I'll call him later for sure."

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